George Mason

George Mason (sometimes referred to as George Mason IV) (December 11, 1725 – October 7, 1792) was a Virginia planter, politician, and a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three men who refused to sign. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government in opposition to ratification of the constitution, have been a significant influence on political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father. Mason was born in 1725, most likely in present-day Fairfax County, Virginia. Mason’s father died when he was young, and his mother managed the family estates until he came of age. He married in 1750, built Gunston Hall, and lived the life of a country squire, supervising his lands, family and slaves. Mason briefly served in the House of Burgesses and involved himself in community affairs, sometimes serving with his neighbor, George Washington. As tensions between Britain and the American colonies grew, Mason came to support the colonial side, and used his knowledge and experience to help the revolutionary cause, finding ways to work around the Stamp Act of 1765 and serving in the rebel Virginia Conventions of 1775 and 1776. Mason prepared the first draft of the Declaration of Rights in 1776, and his words formed much of the text adopted by the final Virginia Convention. He also wrote a constitution for the state; others who sought to have the convention adopt their ideas, like Thomas Jefferson, found Mason’s version could not be stopped. During the war, he was a member of the powerful lower house of the Virginia General Assembly, the House of Delegates, but to the irritation of Washington and others, refused to serve in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, citing health and family commitments. Named one of his state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Mason traveled to Philadelphia, his only lengthy trip outside Virginia. Many clauses in the document bear his stamp, as he was active in the convention for months before deciding he could not sign it. He cited the lack of a bill of rights most prominently in his Objections, but also wanted an immediate end to the slave trade, which he opposed, and a supermajority for navigation acts, which might force exporters of tobacco to use more expensive American ships. Although he lost there, and again at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, his prominent fight for a bill of rights led his fellow Virginian, James Madison, to introduce one during the First Congress in 1789, and it was ratified in 1791, a year before Mason died. Long obscure, Mason is today recognized for his contributions to the United States, and to Virginia.

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